Category Archives: Attachment

Maternal Ambivalence

When You Love Your Kids but Don’t Love Motherhood

tired-mother-with-child1If you are a mother, you have probably experienced at least one day (if not many) when you wondered if you were cut out for the job of parenting. Mothering is hard work. Even on our best days parenting our kids, there are difficult moments. Many days, it is the occasional joyful moment that makes it all worthwhile. Other times, it may not feel like the good justifies the bad.

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The Mindful Parent: Learning How to Let Go

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“There are so many things we benefit from learning to let go of as parents—comparing our children to others, expecting them to be the people we imagined they would be, attempting to be a perfect housekeeper/caregiver/playmate/chef/lover (insert unrealistic expectation here), and, on some days, even expecting to take a shower!” Read More…

Returning to Work After Parental Leave

By Meri Levy, MFT

Regardless of what you decided about working after the birth of your baby, facing the reality of going back to work or staying at home once the baby is born can be a very stressful time. Many moms, even those who were certain that they wanted to return to work after their maternity leave, have very conflicting feelings about the reality of returning to work. And some moms who always planned on staying home after having children face unexpected emotional challenges in facing the reality of looking toward a future at home full-time with their child.

What is hard to anticipate when considering the decision to work or stay at home before the baby is born is how big a loss either decision represents. For moms returning to work, it is common to feel:

  • An enormous sense of loss associated with leaving your baby in another’s care
  • A concern that her child will be irreparably harmed by the separation from you
  • Anxiety about being away from your baby and having your baby’s care outside of your control
  • An unexpectedly strong desire to quit your job and stay home with your baby
  • Guilt associated with having a desire to return to work or resentment at having to go back to work
  • A feeling that you must rush through your workday to return to your baby as quickly as possible, for fear your baby will forget you, or you will miss important moments.

For moms choosing to stay at home, it is common to feel:

  • An unexpected sense of loss associated with no longer receiving the validation of purpose that is so often gained by outside work and receiving a paycheck
  • A sense of vulnerability associated with being dependent upon their partner’s income
  • Guilt associated with conflicting feelings about leaving the work world
  • Boredom with the tasks of mothering and loneliness, especially in the early months before the baby becomes more interactive and you find activities you enjoy with your baby
  • Loneliness and isolation associated with being at home with a small baby, especially before you connect with other new mothers at home with their babies.

These feelings can be very confusing, and new moms often struggle with the decision regardless of what their prior plans were. As a new mom, your entire world has changed, your priorities have shifted, and your now occupies a huge place in your heart. It can be a struggle to align the new role of motherhood with the values you previously held. Many moms change course and decide to stay home despite having planned to return to work, or choose to go back to work full or part-time despite planning to remain at home. Financial considerations play a big role in this decision, as does the developing relationship with your baby, your own clarification of your needs and wants, and your relationship with your partner.

Many mothers seek therapy during this time. Getting help to clarify your feelings about returning to work, exploring alternative work arrangements or more flexible careers, and getting validation for your choices can make this difficult time of transition go smoother. Whether you ultimately decide to stay at home for now or return to work, making decisions from a place of self-compassion, and understanding that there is no one “right” answer can allow you the freedom to honor who you are and who you are becoming.

For New Moms: When You’re “Just Not Yourself”

By Meri Levy, MFT

canstockphoto14016122Being a new mother should be a joyous time in your life. But what if you’re not feeling like yourself after having a baby? About 10-15% or of new moms experience postpartum depression, which can begin any time during the first year after childbirth. Depression is a treatable illness that causes feelings of sadness, indifference, and/or anxiety.

Postpartum depression (PPD) is different from the “baby blues.” A majority of new mothers experience the “baby blues,” a period of sadness that isn’t debilitating and passes quickly. Symptoms of the “baby blues” include tearfulness, irritability, restlessness, and anxiety. But when symptoms of sadness, irritability or anxiety continue for more than two weeks or make it difficult to care for your baby, there is more going on and it’s time to reach out for help.

Symptoms of PPD include:

  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Feeling sad, hopeless, helpless, or worthless
  • Trouble sleeping/sleeping too much
  • Loss of appetite/increased appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating/confusion
  • Crying for no apparent reason
  • Lack of interest in the baby
  • Fear of harming the baby or oneself

Symptoms can vary in severity, but persistent depression often causes new moms feel isolated, guilty, or ashamed.

You should tell your doctor if you have several of these symptoms for more than two weeks; if you have thoughts of suicide or thoughts of harming your child; depressed feelings are getting worse; or you are having trouble caring for your baby or yourself.

Depression is an illness. It is not a sign of weakness or of being a bad mother. It can be treated successfully, and getting help is the best thing you can do for your baby.

Risk Factors for PPD

Any new mom can develop PPD. Its causes may include hormonal and other physical changes, sleep disturbance, emotional adjustments and chronic stress. However, women are at increased risk of depression if they have a personal or family history of depression, if they are have experienced particularly stressful life events such as significant losses, a high-risk pregnancy or traumatic birth, or if they don’t have adequate support from family and friends.

Other Postpartum Conditions:

Postpartum Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Many new moms experience anxiety rather than sadness after giving birth. Anxiety, panic attacks, irrational fears or intrusive thoughts, or images can be associated with Postpartum Anxiety or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Symptoms of a panic attack can include a racing heartbeat, unusual physical symptoms, a sense of impending doom, the feeling that you are dying, dizziness or nausea.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder after Childbirth
New mothers can also develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a traumatic childbirth experience. PTSD involves reexperiencing the trauma through flashbacks or nightmares, having difficulty sleeping, and feeling detached or estranged from friends and loved ones.

Postpartum Psychosis
Postpartum psychosis is extremely rare but also very serious. It affects only two out of every 1,000 new moms. The symptoms are severe and may include insomnia, agitation, hallucinations, and extreme paranoia or suspiciousness. Postpartum psychosis is a serious medical emergency and requires immediate attention.

Treatment for Postpartum Disorders is Effective

If you believe you are suffering from a postpartum disorder, the first step is to talk to your doctor or mental health provider.

You should be evaluated by your doctor to rule out a medical cause that can contribute to depression.

Psychotherapy, medication or a combination of the two may be needed to get you back to feeling like yourself. But you must continue treatment even after you begin to feel better, because discontinuing treatment too soon can cause symptoms to recur.

The support of family and friends is also instrumental to your recovery. In addition, joining a support group for postpartum disorders can help overcome feelings of isolation, increase coping skills and provide social support.

Getting help is the most important step you can take for yourself and your baby. Untreated maternal depression is associated with developmental delays in babies, as well as potentially serious emotional consequences for your growing child.

How Partners Can Help

New moms suffering from Pospartum Depression and Anxiety need the support of their partner, as well as friends and family. Help with baby care and household responsibilities, provide an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on, and be patient and understanding with her struggles. And make sure she gets help.

Partners also need to take care of themselves. Having a new baby is hard for partners too. And if the mother is depressed, you are dealing with two major stressors. Partners can also suffer from Postpartum Depression, a often undiagnosed problem.

How to help a partner suffering from a postpartum disorder:

  • Encourage her to talk about how she is feeling. Listen without judging her. Instead of trying to fix the problems, just be there for her to lean on.
  • Offer help around the house. Chip in with the housework and childcare responsibilities. Don’t wait for her to ask!
  • Make sure she takes time for herself. Rest and relaxation are important. Encourage her to take breaks, hire a babysitter, or schedule some date nights.
  • Be patient if she’s not ready for sex. Depression affects sex drive, so it may be a while before she’s in the mood. Offer her physical affection, but don’t push if she’s not ready for sex. She will recover in time!
  • Go for walks with her. Getting exercise and sunshine can make a big dent in depression, but it’s hard to get motivated when you’re depressed. Help her by making walks a daily ritual for the two of you.

If you’re not sure if you have PPD, complete the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. It is a fairly accurate way of determine if your symptoms are normal or may require treatment.

I offer a support group In my Lafayette Office for mothers suffering from perinatal anxiety and depression. You can download a flier for the group here.

Feeling Clueless? Reading Your Baby’s Cues

By Meri Levy, MFT

father babyPeople have a physiological reaction to the sound of a baby crying. Our hearts pound, our blood pressure rises, and we start to sweat. This reaction causes most of us to try to stop the crying, regardless of how tired, irritable, or hungry we might be ourselves. And that’s a good thing. It’s how our babies learn to trust that their needs will be met and that the world is a safe place.

But sometimes (often!) new parents wonder what the baby is trying to say? What does the baby need? We run around randomly, trying different remedies: jiggling the baby, rocking the baby, changing her diaper, offering a breast or the bottle, or a pacifier. And sometimes the baby still cries. We desperately want to eliminate the cause of the crying, and we become frustrated, angry or guilty when we fail.

I faced this situation with my first child, Benjamin. I never knew what he wanted. He seemed to be constantly fussing, and I was never very good at calming him (and I did not feel calm myself). My second child, Elijah, always wanted to eat, so it was easier to consistently meet his needs. But I had not really improved my ability to read a baby’s signals.

With my third child, Emma, I hoped and prayed she would never (or rarely) cry, so I wouldn’t feel quite so inadequate again. But in the meantime, I picked up a copy of Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg. I had heard her on a talk show, and she claimed she get babies to sleep through the night, on their own, without letting them cry. This was a secret I wanted in on.

What I got from the book was very different from what I expected. The book is not for everyone. The author is not an advocate of “attachment parenting,” for example. But regardless of your parenting philosophy, The Baby Whisperer has a lot of good information about caring for your baby in a respectful way. She focuses on honoring your baby’s individuality, understanding how babies communicate, and learning how to meet their individual needs.

The book prompted me to stop when Emma began to cry, and to really listen and observe her, rather than jumping in and trying to “rescue” her without knowing what she was asking for. When I figured out what she was saying to me, I was in a much better position to meet her needs.

Here are some of the body language cues discussed in the book that I have found helpful:

Tiredness:

    • Yawning;
    • Moving head from side to side;
    • Flailing, uncoordinated arms, clawing at face;
    • Strong, uncoordinated kicking;
    • Bloodshot eyes.

Overstimulation/overtiredness, same as above, plus:

    • Turns away from objects and faces;
    • “Seven-mile stare.”

Hunger:

    • Turning head to one side and craning neck back with an open mouth;
    • Bringing hands to mouth, trying to suck them;
    • Pursing lips;
    • Curling tongue at sides.

Coldness:

    • Quivering bottom lip;
    • Extremities turning bluish;
    • Mottled skin;
    • Goose pimples;

Pain/gas:

  • Silent screaming, then gasp and audible wail
  • Grimacing, often scrunched up face
  • Arms shaking, slight tremor
  • Rigid torso
  • Legs pulled up to chest

What I discovered, from observing Emma more closely and choosing how to respond to her body language and cries, is that frequently what I used to interpret as hunger or gas was in fact tiredness or overstimulation. What happens if you feed a tired baby who isn’t hungry is that frequently she may get gas and be overtired and more difficult to put to sleep.

The goal is not to stop all crying. Babies cry to express themselves, and even a “perfect” parent, if such a thing existed, couldn’t prevent all crying. Nor should you, necessarily; your baby may benefit from having a chance occasionally to self-soothe, which is an important skill as your baby grows older. For subsequent children, this skill is learned by necessity because parents can’t always respond immediately. But by learning to read your baby’s cues, you can avoid some frustration for yourself and have the confidence to know you are doing the best you can for your baby.

Becoming a Parent to Your Newborn

By Meri Levy, MFT

Regardless of your expectations, the arrival of a first baby is, first and foremost, a radical role adjustment for the new mother and father. As you grow from being a child to an adult and into a partner in an adult relationship, most of us experience shifts in our relationships as daughters or sons, sisters or brothers, and friends or lovers.

But the birth of a baby changes everything! Now perhaps your most significant role in life is as a parent. This is an altogether new role, and babysitting experience aside, there is no real preparation for it. But it is truly amazing to see how our babies foster and nourish our growth as parents, almost from the beginning.

While you adapt and grow to fill your new role, it can be difficult at times to hold onto formerly cherished roles, as a professional, a friend or lover, and an independent person in your own right. You may find that you are redefining yourself in ways that make these roles change (e.g. leaving behind a career, changing roles in your marriage, etc.)

Ultimately, however, we are ourselves. While we adapt to our role as parents, we also must adapt our view of parenting to include who we are as individuals — to allow ourselves to fit into our vision of a good parent.

Some mothers plan to stay at home full-time, but must still figure out if staying at home with their new baby is what makes them a happy mom. Or conversely, working mothers may find that they cannot leave their baby in another’s care. For fathers, you may have expected yourself to be the provider, but you still must figure out if spending the weekend satisfying that picky client at home is how you want to be a father — or if your partner is even the better choice as the bread-winner! And parents must weigh all sorts of other priorities, to friends, yourself, and the world, in figuring out how you will incorporate being a parent into your life.

No one can do this for you, because you are as unique a person as your new baby, and uniquely qualified to create the best family for your child.

If the process of evolving into the parent you want to be is more challenging that you thought, working with a therapist who specializes in this transition is a good way to work through your competing goals and figure out the path that is right for you.